Bumbling, fumbling and incoherent? Perfect for the job

Sometimes Hollywood agents, like all salesmen, run out of sensible ways to praise what they're touting and start to babble – which can be very funny.

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Before you can be in production on a television show you must first go through something called "preproduction", which is, for my money, the most fun part of the whole process.

Pre-production is all drumroll, all hypotheticals. You're thinking up stories and putting together a production staff and picking out dry-erase board sizes and in general doing the kind of fun preparation work that everybody likes to do, without any of the gruelling this-is-really-happening-now work you have to do in production.

But to begin preproduction on a television show, you need to hire a writing staff, which is also fun because the good news is, there are a lot of great writers out there. The bad news, for them, is that they're "available", which is the Hollywood euphemism for unemployed.

The only drawback, really, is that to hire a bunch of writers, you must first talk to a bunch of writers' agents, all of whom - thanks to the large number of "available" writers in Hollywood - are in full-blown sell mode.

Agents are always getting mocked and criticised - it's sort of a tired old Hollywood joke, to make fun of agents - but almost all of the agents I deal with are honest and thoughtful people, who care a lot about their clients, and are just trying to do the best job possible.

I know. Hard to believe. But, amazingly, true.

When an agent calls you - or emails - or, often, both within three minutes of each other - they know they only have a few seconds to make an impression. So when they introduce a writer to you, they'll deliver a short and fairly concise pitch - their client is clever and young and extremely in-demand (despite being chronically available) - but often they'll become so wrapped up in their own torrent of "sell" that they end up saying something odd and, basically, incoherent.

It's not the agent's fault, of course. When you're trying to sell something, you sometimes talk too much, say too much or let your pitch turn into blather.

I remember once, years ago, trying to buy a suit, and while I was thinking about it, the salesman came up to me and talked to me about the fabric and the cut and the brand and when I was silent for a second he must have panicked. Salesmen hate silence.

So after a moment or two, when I hadn't said anything, the salesman blurted out this peculiar statement: "Sir, remember. This isn't just a suit. This is a … clothing garment."

A "clothing garment"?

Those words strung together don't mean anything, but I guess they sound like the right kind of noise to make when you're trying to move a suit.

I've done it myself.

Once, when I was pitching a television show set in San Francisco, the executive I was pitching to asked, innocently: "Why San Francisco?"

I didn't really have an answer for her, but instead of shrugging and staying silent, I just started talking. "The thing I love about San Francisco," I blathered, "is that there are so many different ways into the city."

A totally meaningless statement. But everybody sort of nodded and acted like it meant something, that it reflected a great deal of thought and consideration on my part, when in fact I had just been sitting in my office a day or two before and thought: "Why not San Francisco? If we shoot some of it up there, I'll have some good dinners."

So when an agent tells me, as one did the other day, that a client is "funny, and has a wonderfully diverse sensibility", I don't ask for a clarification. Or, when another describes a client, as one did just this morning, as "dripping, literally, with smarts", I try not to ask if the client requires a special kind of plastic-coated chair. I get it. It's just sales talk.

During this preproduction period, I've been told about clients who are rewrite session "powerhouses", and "story-structure experts", and good all-around "joke masters", and passionate "character-piece crafters".

None of that makes any sense, really, but it doesn't matter. In fact, it's sort of comforting to know that agents are making these kinds of robust pitches - I certainly hope mine is doing that for me. And despite being easy to make fun of, I choose instead to concentrate on the enthusiasm for the thing being sold - a suit, a pitch, a writer.

I like living in a world where every suit is a clothing garment, every city has wonderful commuter possibilities, and every writer drips with smarts.

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood